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"Imagining" boundaries

Sīmā space, lineage trails, and trans-regional Theravada orthodoxy

This thesis takes up the historical, political, and aesthetic importance of sīmā space—specially consecrated grounds in which Buddhist monks are ordained. First, I track the slow emergence of Theravada orthodoxy during the second millenium as it emerged through the trans-regional interactions between Buddhist literati in (what are now) Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. Then, I position the mid-nineteenth-century Siamese Thammayut reformation—which was predicated on concerns for pure sīmā space—within this second-millenium movement of Theravada orthodoxy. I do this through analysis of Rama IV's writings and rulings on sīmā space, and his rearrangements of the sīmā space at Wat Rachathiwat, a royal temple in Bangkok. Lastly, I analyze the early twentieth-century renovation of the ordination hall and sīmā space at Wat Rachathiwat to show the importance of aesthetics during the emergence of Siamese modernity.